Capital Health Care NetworkSeasonal Sadness: The Struggle is Real

Jan 07, 2019

We are at the onset of what can prove to be a most difficult time of year – especially for seniors who are more sensitive to the cold and for those living alone. With holiday festivities behind us and winter upon us, many will suffer from what some call the “winter blues,” while others will experience a more prolonged type of clinical depression called Season Affective Disorder or SAD. SAD is a well-defined clinical diagnosis that is connected to the shorter days of winter.

Research has it that reduced sunlight in the fall and winter disrupts the body’s internal clock or natural rhythm. This 24-hour “master clock” responds to cues in your surroundings, especially light and darkness. Shortened daylight hours in winter can alter this natural rhythm and lead to SAD.

Have you been down and out? Feeling irritable, withdrawn, or tired? Are you sleeping too much or craving carbohydrates? Folks with SAD may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, such as hobbies and spending time with friends, or they may not be able to find the energy for those activities. For some, the consequences are even more serious and may lead to feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.

What can be done? See your doctor. Your doctor may be able to prescribe light therapy, an antidepressant or counseling. Light therapy is meant to replace the missing daylight hours with an artificial substitute. Patients generally sit in front of a light box every morning for 30 minutes or more, depending on the doctor’s recommendation. The box shines light much brighter than ordinary indoor lighting. Light therapy has been shown effective for as much as 70% of the population and some folks report improvement after just one treatment.

If none of these remedies work, try scheduling activities that you typically enjoy into your routine and then make a commitment to do them. For example, you might commit to lunch with friends, taking a morning walk or volunteering in the community.